University of Pennsylvania Press

Contemporary Ethnography

Kirin Narayan, Series Editor

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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Contemporary Ethnography

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Porta Palazzo

The Anthropology of an Italian Market

By Rachel E. Black. Foreword by Carlo Petrini

Porta Palazzo, arguably Western Europe's largest open-air market, is a central economic, social, and cultural hub for Italians and migrants in the city of Turin. Open-air markets like Porta Palazzo have existed for centuries in Europe; although their function has changed over time—traditional markets are no longer the primary place to buy food—they remain popular destinations. In an age of supermarkets and online commerce, markets offer unique social and cultural opportunities and bring together urban and rural worldviews. These factors are often overlooked in traditional economic studies of food distribution, but anthropologist Rachel E. Black contends that social relations are essential for building and maintaining valuable links between production and consumption.

From the history of Porta Palazzo to the current growing pains of the market, this book concentrates on points where trade meets cultural identities and cuisine. Its detailed and perceptive portraits of the market bring into relief the lives of the vendors, shoppers, and passersby. Black's ethnography illuminates the daily work of market-going and the anxieties of shoppers as they navigate the market. It examines migration, the link between cuisine and cultural identity, culinary tourism, the connection between the farmers' market and the production of local food, and the urban planning issues negotiated by the city of Turin and market users during a recent renovation. This vibrant study, featuring a foreword by Slow Food Movement founder Carlo Petrini, makes a strong case for why markets like Porta Palazzo are critical for fostering culinary culture and social life in cities.

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Rituals of Ethnicity

Thangmi Identities Between Nepal and India

By Sara Shneiderman

Rituals of Ethnicity is a transnational study of the relationships between mobility, ethnicity, and ritual action. Through an ethnography of the Thangmi, a marginalized community who migrate between Himalayan border zones of Nepal, India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, Shneiderman offers a new explanation for the persistence of enduring ethnic identities today despite the increasing realities of mobile, hybrid lives. She shows that ethnicization may be understood as a process of ritualization, which brings people together around the shared sacred object of identity.

The first comprehensive ethnography of the Thangmi, Rituals of Ethnicity is framed by the Maoist-state civil conflict in Nepal and the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland in India. The histories of individual nation-states in this geopolitical hotspot—as well as the cross-border flows of people and ideas between them—reveal the far-reaching and mutually entangled discourses of democracy, communism, development, and indigeneity that have transformed the region over the last half century. Attentive to the competing claims of diverse members of the Thangmi community, from shamans to political activists, Shneiderman shows how Thangmi ethnic identity is produced collaboratively by individuals through ritual actions embedded in local, national, and transnational contexts. She builds upon the specificity of Thangmi experiences to tell a larger story about the complexities of ethnic consciousness: the challenges of belonging and citizenship under conditions of mobility, the desire to both lay claim to and remain apart from the civil society of multiple states, and the paradox of self-identification as a group with cultural traditions in need of both preservation and development. Through deep engagement with a diverse, cross-border community which yearns to be understood as a distinctive, coherent whole, Rituals of Ethnicity presents an argument for the continued value of locally situated ethnography in a multi-sited world.

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Sensuous Scholarship

By Paul Stoller

Among the Songhay of Mali and Niger, who consider the stomach the seat of personality, learning is understood not in terms of mental activity but in bodily terms. Songhay bards study history by "eating the words of the ancestors," and sorcerers learn their art by ingesting particular substances, by testing their flesh with knives, by mastering pain and illness.

In Sensuous Scholarship Paul Stoller challenges contemporary social theorists and cultural critics who—using the notion of embodiment to critique Eurocentric and phallocentric predispositions in scholarly thought—consider the body primarily as a text that can be read and analyzed. Stoller argues that this attitude is in itself Eurocentric and is particularly inappropriate for anthropologists, who often work in societies in which the notion of text, and textual interpretation, is foreign.

Throughout Sensuous Scholarship Stoller argues for the importance of understanding the "sensuous epistemologies" of many non-Western societies so that we can better understand the societies themselves and what their epistemologies have to teach us about human experience in general.

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Shelter Blues

Sanity and Selfhood Among the Homeless

By Robert R. Desjarlais

Desjarlais shows us not anonymous faces of the homeless but real people.

While it is estimated that 25 percent or more of America's homeless are mentally ill, their lives are largely unknown to us. What must life be like for those who, in addition to living on the street, hear voices, suffer paranoid delusions, or have trouble thinking clearly or talking to others.

Shelter Blues is an innovative portrait of people residing in Boston's Station Street Shelter. It examines the everyday lives of more than 40 homeless men and women, both white and African-American, ranging in age from early 20s to mid-60s. Based on a sixteen-month study, it draws readers into the personal worlds of these individuals and, by addressing the intimacies of homelessness, illness, and abjection, picks up where most scholarship and journalism stops.

Robert Desjarlais works against the grain of media representations of homelessness by showing us not anonymous stereotypes but individuals. He draws on conversations as well as observations, talking with and listening to shelter residents to understand how they relate to their environment, to one another, and to those entrusted with their care. His book considers their lives in terms of a complex range of forces and helps us comprehend the linkages between culture, illness, personhood, and political agency on the margins of contemporary American society.

Shelter Blues is unlike anything else ever written about homelessness. It challenges social scientists and mental health professionals to rethink their approaches to human subjectivity and helps us all to better understand one of the most pressing problems of our time.

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Stitching Identities in a Free Trade Zone

Gender and Politics in Sri Lanka

By Sandya Hewamanne

Anthropologist Sandya Hewamanne spent time in a Sri Lankan free trade zone (FTZ) working and living among the workers to learn about their lives. "They were poor women from rural areas," Hewamanne writes, "who migrated to do garment work in transnational factories of a global assembly line. Their difficult work routines and sad living conditions have been examined in detail. When I was with them I often wondered whether anyone noticed the smiles, winks, smirks, gestures, tones of voice, the movies they saw, or the songs they sang." Hewamanne deftly weaves theories of identity, globalization, and cultural politics throughout her detailed accounts of the workers' efforts to negotiate ever shifting roles and expectations of gender, class, and sexuality.

By analyzing how these workers claim political subjectivity, Hewamanne's Stitching Identities in a Free Trade Zone challenges conventional notions about women at the bottom of the global economy. The book offers a fascinating journey through the vibrant subaltern universe of Sri Lankan female migrant workers, from the FTZ factory shop floor to boarding houses, from urban movie theaters to temples and beaches and back to their native rural villages. Stitching Identities in a Free Trade Zone captures the spirit with which women confront power and violence through everyday poetics and politics, exploring how female workers construct themselves as different while investigating this difference as the space where deep anxieties and ambivalences over notions of nation, modernity, and globalization get played out.

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Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels

Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching

By Kirin Narayan

Swamiji, a Hindu holy man, is the central character of Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels. He reclines in a deck chair in his modern apartment in western India, telling subtle and entertaining fold narratives to his assorted gatherings. Among the listeners is Kirin Narayan, who knew Swamiji when she was a child in India and who has returned from America as an anthropologist. In her book Narayan builds on Swamiji's tales and his audiences' interpretations to ask why religious teachings the world over are so often couched in stories.

For centuries, religious teachers from many traditions have used stories to instruct their followers. When Swamiji tells a story, the local barber rocks I helpless laughter, and a sari-wearing French nurse looks on enrapt. Farmers make decisions based on the tales, and American psychotherapists take notes that link the storytelling to their own practices. Narayan herself is a key character in this ethnography. As both a local woman and a foreign academic, she is somewhere between participant and observer, reacting to the nuances of fieldwork with a sensitivity that only such a position can bring.

Each story s reproduced in its evocative performance setting. Narayan supplements eight folk narratives with discussions of audience participation and response as well as relevant Hindu themes. All these stories focus on the complex figure of the Hindu ascetic and so sharpen our understanding of renunciation and gurus in South Asia.

While Storytellers, Saints, and Scoundrels raises provocative theoretical issues, it is also a moving human document. Swamiji, with his doll characterizations, inventive mind, and generous spirit, is a memorable character. The book contributes to a growing interdisciplinary literature on narrative. It will be particularly valuable to students and scholars of anthropology, folklore, performance studies, religions, and South Asian studies.

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The Taste of Blood

Spirit Possession in Brazilian Candomble

By Jim Wafer

Enter the fascinating world of the Condomble regions of Brazil, where interaction between spirits and human is considered an everyday occurrence. Jim Wafer uncovers the social life, rituals, folklore, and engaging personalities of the villagers of Jacari, among whom trances, sorcery, and spirit possession demonstrate the coexistence of different kinds of reality.

This ethnography is intriguing not only because of the originality of its approach to the more enigmatic aspects of another culture but also because it uses insights gained from participation in that culture to reflect on the paradoxes inherent in the writer's own culture, and in the human condition in general.

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The Taste of Ethnographic Things

The Senses in Anthropology

By Paul Stoller

Anthropologists who have lost their senses write ethnographies that are often disconnected from the worlds they seek to portray. For most anthropologists, Stoller contends, tasteless theories are more important than the savory sauces of ethnographic life. That they have lost the smells, sounds, and tastes of the places they study is unfortunate for them, for their subjects, and for the discipline itself.

The Taste of Ethnographic Things describes how, through long-term participation in the lives of the Songhay of Niger, Stoller eventually came to his senses. Taken together, the separate chapters speak to two important and integrated issues. The first is methodological—all the chapters demonstrate the rewards of long-term study of a culture. The second issue is how he became truer to the Songhay through increased sensual awareness.

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Witching Culture

Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America

By Sabina Magliocco

Taking the reader into the heart of one of the fastest-growing religious movements in North America, Sabina Magliocco reveals how the disciplines of anthropology and folklore were fundamental to the early development of Neo-Paganism and the revival of witchcraft. Magliocco examines the roots that this religious movement has in a Western spiritual tradition of mysticism disavowed by the Enlightenment. She explores, too, how modern Pagans and Witches are imaginatively reclaiming discarded practices and beliefs to create religions more in keeping with their personal experience of the world as sacred and filled with meaning. Neo-Pagan religions focus on experience, rather than belief, and many contemporary practitioners have had mystical experiences. They seek a context that normalizes them and creates in them new spiritual dimensions that involve change in ordinary consciousness.

Magliocco analyzes magical practices and rituals of Neo-Paganism as art forms that reanimate the cosmos and stimulate the imagination of its practitioners. She discusses rituals that are put together using materials from a variety of cultural and historical sources, and examines the cultural politics surrounding the movement—how the Neo-Pagan movement creates identity by contrasting itself against the dominant culture and how it can be understood in the context of early twenty-first-century identity politics.

Witching Culture is the first ethnography of this religious movement to focus specifically on the role of anthropology and folklore in its formation, on experiences that are central to its practice, and on what it reveals about identity and belief in twenty-first-century North America.

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The Written Suburb

An American Site, An Ethnographic Dilemma

By John D. Dorst

Chadds Ford, an upscale suburb in southeastern Pennsylvania, devotes a lot of energy to creating a historical identity. Numerous institutions participate in this task, including museums, a land conservancy dedicated to the preservation of its historical landscape, and the Historical Society, which is responsible for an annual community celebration. Larger institutions related to regional tourism and suburban development generate a steady flow of texts about Chadds Ford in the form of glossy travel magazines, pamphlets, brochures, and gallery displays.

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